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Interstate love song
The idea that we can sustainably divide and categorize ourselves across 330 million people and 50 states without troubling one another to "show your papers" merely to cross a state line is no small factor in the strength of our union as a country.
One of the most satisfying exercises of American life is to cross a state line. It's an act we take for granted, almost to an excruciating degree, but we really ought to pause once in a while to consider what a subversive act it really is.
■ It took the European Union ten years to implement the Schengen Agreement to dismantle border controls among most of the EU countries, and even after 35 years, the Schengen Area is neither comprehensive within the EU, nor entirely free. Several member countries have reinstated border controls to deal with Covid-19, just for example.
■ Freedom of movement isn't to be taken for granted elsewhere, either. China's approach to internal travel remains far from free, which is widely (and correctly) regarded from the outside as a restriction on personal freedom. And a significant movement is underway to relax the existing restrictions on travel among the member countries of the African Union, because that freedom is seen (again correctly) as both a meaningful form of freedom and a great tool for economic development.
■ The basic appeal of maximizing the free movement across borders of goods, money, ideas, and people is that freedom of movement reinforces the basic sovereignty of the individual while simultaneously enhancing the efficient distribution of labor, capital, and the intangible resources that make economic activity possible. It is a case where the principles of classical-liberal personal rights and those of market economics are elegantly aligned.
■ Americans tend not to notice these very much as we ride the highways and cross the land and river borders that separate states from one another. Regions belonging to multiple states are usually much more closely identified by their shared identities -- the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois, Kansas City of both Kansas and Missouri, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and Metropolitan New York -- than by the state-level distinctions that divide them. A sign generally welcomes the traveler to a new state at a high-traffic crossing, while lower-tier crossings may be noticeable only because a street is named "State Line Road". We are free to be peacefully different and seamlessly integrated.
■ But perhaps we should notice these borders more, even if only to nod in cheerful respect for the ease of our crossings. States are bundled together in a patchwork of interstate zones: Federal Reserve Bank districts, National Weather Service regions, FAA regions, EPA regions, districts of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and Federal court circuits, among many others.
■ The idea that we can sustainably divide and categorize ourselves across 330 million people and 50 states without troubling one another to "show your papers" merely to cross a state line is no small factor in the strength of our union as a country. We aren't compelled to think about that freedom all that often, but it would be a wise exercise to bring it to the forefront more often. The benefits of union are vast and enhance our well-being.